When the government first announced social distancing measures in March 2020, most public sector organisations already had Business Continuity Management (BCM) plans in place. These plans enabled office-based employees to work from home without causing major disruption to the services public sector teams were providing. But BCM plans are usually designed to deal with short term disruption to our usual working practices. The ongoing situation has led to teams working and collaborating for months on end and, for many in the public sector, there is little prospect of returning to normality anytime soon.
Councils and local government organisations are facing tough financial challenges right now. Between March and June, councils incurred £4.8-billion of extra cost pressures and income losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This figure is expected to rise to £10.9 billion and, as the government has pledged just £3.2 billion of emergency funding, councils face a funding gap of £7.4 billion. Local authorities in Scotland are among the worst hit, with four Scottish councils facing shortfalls of the equivalent of more than £300 per resident.
At the same time, councils across the UK have been investing in mobile technology to enable employees to continue working efficiently from home – often including expensive hardware refreshes. It is natural for them to want to get the most from this investment going forward. One of the most effective ways for senior management to make cost savings is to encourage teams to continue to work remotely, and have fewer staff working in the office. This would allow councils to make up some of the budget shortfall by estate rationalisation. Bristol City Council showed how effective this strategy can be when it reduced its property portfolio by 85% in 2017 – saving a total of £125 million over a period of five years.
The unexpected success of remote working
Another factor that is likely to lead to remote working becoming the new normal, is how successful it has been for employers and staff alike. Just 13% of workers want to return to the office full time and the remaining 87% want more flexibility to work remotely. 21% would rather never go back to the office at all.
These numbers are hardly surprising in some ways. For many people, working from home has brought an end to commuter misery, given them more time to spend with the family, and saved them money on travel, coffee and lunches – just for starters. But the figures also indicate that employees are comfortable adopting digital communication tools.
While remote working has separated us in some ways (no more watercooler conversations or daily stand-ups) it has brought us closer together in others. Microsoft Teams meetings, for example, give us glimpses into each other’s home lives – often thanks to unplanned interruptions from children or pets. And, as all meetings are now virtual, the distinction between meetings with our own colleagues, and members of other organisations, has disappeared. Remote working has widened our community.
The advantages of remote working aren’t restricted to non-managerial employees. Recent research shows that that a majority of European executives and managers have seen productivity, collaboration and work-life balance improve while their staff work remotely.
Many employers are beginning to see greater benefits from collaboration tools they have already invested in. Microsoft Teams, for example, was previously underused by many organisations. It is now the only way of communication for many workers and is proving a huge success. Meetings are easier to schedule, as organisers can simply invite participants by email and no longer need to work around the availability of a room. Users have become more proficient at using the features – including screen-sharing and giving presentations – making meetings more efficient. And because anyone can join a Teams meeting, regardless of their location, councils can be more inclusive. Members of the public can now join council meetings, even if they are self-isolating or have mobility issues.
How councils can prepare for the future
It is apparent that large-scale remote workforces are here to stay, so how should councils and local governments prepare for the future? Considerations must include maintaining productivity, preparing for disruption, optimising cloud services and ensuring data security.
A good starting point for public sector organisations is to assess which workloads are already running in the cloud and which would benefit from migration. With the majority of employees working remotely, it makes sense, from both a security and performance perspective, to host apps, platforms and databases in the cloud – but deciding which ones requires specialist knowledge.
Insight’s Migration Services are designed to help organisations make and implement these kind of decisions. For example, a Discovery Workshop can help you identify core challenges and objectives, and determine which workloads you should move to the cloud, while a Hybrid Cloud Assessment will help you strategically move those workloads to the cloud with minimum risk.
Other important considerations for cloud migration include security, performance and value for money. Remote working brings an increased security risk, and places a bigger strain on databases, apps and platforms – which can affect performance. And, if cloud usage is ungoverned, there is a risk of overspending. It’s therefore essential to ensure that councils and local government organisations follow best practice for cloud migration. Insight’s Azure Governance Service is designed to help organisations follow best practice, manage spend effectively and optimise cloud security and performance.
Taking remote collaboration beyond the workplace
Digital solutions can help local councils and government authorities overcome both present and future challenges – not only for employees, but for service users too. For example, with the shortfall in budgets for social care, remote collaboration tools could be used to replace physical visits to service users, and IoT wearables and apps could be used to monitor clients’ well-being. Digital technology can empower government organisations to provide quality care while reducing the number of physical staff visits.
Insight’s Digital Innovation Team is also working on entirely new ways to monitor public health and wellbeing. One project is exploring the use thermal imaging to identify people that have a high temperature. This technology could be used in offices, or even in parks and other open spaces, to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
As we continue to embrace the new normal, public sector organisations must make the best use of the digital tools that are available today and ensure that cloud implementation is optimised for security, spending and performance. But they must also continue to embrace future digital innovations in order to deliver the best service and make the best use of available resources.
We can optimise your cloud services for security, spending and performance. Find out more.
It seems likely that, for many public sector workers, the new normal is here to stay. Research shows that both employers and workers feel they benefit from remote working. If employees continue to work remotely, councils have an opportunity to make up some budget shortfall by estate rationalisation. Those that are yet to adopt remote working tools such as Microsoft Office 365 and Teams should do so as soon as possible. Those that have already done so should prepare for the long haul, shifting databases, apps, and workloads into the cloud where appropriate and optimise platforms for security, performance and value for money. Remote collaboration tools can also be used to deliver services to the public – saving money and freeing up valuable human resources.